On our arrival in Australia, my mother Lisa's only language was German. After staying a few weeks in Bonegilla we moved to Beechworth in Victoria. Initially my mother worked a few hours a week as housemaid in the home of the boss at Zwar's tannery. A couple of months later she began full time work as a machinist in the shoe factory. At neither place did she have the opportunity of learning English. Being a child, I picked up English very quickly at school. I learnt English and reading and writing all at the same time, in a matter of months, in first grade at St Joseph's Primary in Beechworth. I was the first immigrant child at the school and the nuns did not quite know what to do with me, so I was seated at the back of the multi-grade room and picked things up ad hoc, as children do. Years later when I was in 5th grade and three newly arrived German-speaking children from one family enrolled, I was taken out of class for a while most days and it was my job to teach them the rudiments of English. I was not much of a teacher as my meagre German was already very rusty by then. Something I remember from my first weeks at school was, being winter, Lisa had sent me off to school in my warm trousers, which caused no end of consternation. Eventually Lisa was made to understand that girls wearing trousers were not permitted in the Catholic school, so then it was skimpy dress and horrid, sagging lisle stockings. My step-father John was fluent in Hungarian, Yugoslavian and German. In addition he had a smattering of Russian, Czech, Polish and English (the last learnt from the US soldiers for whom he worked in Deggendorf). At the Beechworth tannery he worked as fitter and turner and general odd-job man, which meant he circulated and got to practice English throughout the day. He picked up basic English very quickly, which left only Lisa with poor English skills.

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